Democracy Democracy: Toilet Paper and Mud Wrestling

This is kind of a cool thing for a poet; the word “democracy”
is trending on my blog stats.  I rarely
look at these things, but last week with a little too much time on my hands, I
clicked on “keyword activity” on my blog stats and up popped the the D word.  So on the day President Obama will make his
annual State of the Union address, let me address the word democracy.
It wasn’t just my (relentless) absent-mindedness that lead
me to title two of my poems Democracy. 
It was like going shopping with a friend where you both fall in love
with the same dress, both purchase it, and promise to never wear the matchy
matchy frocks to the same party.  It
helps to seal this bargain if you live in different cities, states or
countries. 
I wrote the following two poems 10 years apart and
honestly thought they would never wind up in the universe, let alone the same
classrooms.  But this is the age of the Internet
and geez-o-man, a poet can’t get away with anything these days.
First let me say, I am a big proponent of democracy.  Unlike the review of the following poem that
I read on some online forum, I do NOT believe that democracy means stealing
toilet paper.  (Oh how I hope that was just a discussion
starter).  Rather, I think it means that,
despite our differences, we have the ability to get together as a community and
see how we can make toilet paper available to all instead of a small minority
hoarding all the toilet paper for themselves. 
Toilet paper is a double ply metaphor in the US with its two ruling
parties.
Originally performed at the 1996 National Poetry Slam, this
poem was first published in Chicks Up Front (Cleveland State University
Press).  I wrote this poem reflecting on
my time as the Public Information Officer at the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing
Authority.  Let me tell you, people in
that organization deserve purple hearts for how they get beat up on a daily
basis just trying to make democracy work. 
Of course, as in any profession, a few of the executives, workers, and
residents become crooks, stealing what they can for themselves, hang the needs
of others.  But most are wearily trying
to divide a miniature cupcake 57 different ways.
Democracy
(1)
My office is
government issue.
The basics, one
metal desk, one chair,
a stack of
folders,
four rubber stamps
and loose paper in need of baling wire, or a match…
A gray office
beside a multicolored room full of folks waiting on
government basics.
Thump.
Thump.
A large woman
thumps, thumps. 
Thumps past my
office.
Thump. Thump,
down the hall to
the ladies room.
Sounds of water
running followed by
the swing of the
squeaky door,
it slaps against
the wall
oozing toward a
bumpy close.
Thump.  Thump.
I look up as she
passes again.
Dark hallway.
Dark clothing.
Dark hands.
White toilet
paper.
Thump. Thump.
I watch after her
passing.
Thump. Thump.
She stole the
toilet paper.
Also government
issue,
two rolls per day.
Issued by
the same
government that
murders mountains
of forests for the
confusion of paper
it takes to
purchase a pencil
through
proper procurement
procedures.
The same
government that
offers tax abated
housing to
for profit
football teams and
levies income tax
on where’s-the-profit
unemployment
compensation.
The same
government that
issues food stamps
for
koolaid, popsicles
and tater tots
but not for toilet
paper,
like it’s some
privilege
that poor folks
don’t need.
That same
government issues us
two rolls per day,
93% of the days
since our last 7% cut.
Two rolls.
I rub at the
crow’s feet which are deepening into my mother’s face
and listen to her
leaving.
She stole the
toilet paper.
The clock silently
mouths
that it’s just
3:05.
I wait for a
moment, reluctant to go
once more against
the mountain,
knowing the thin
air
makes me
lightheaded.
Finally I move.
“Ma’am, did
you take our toilet paper?”
She looks straight
ahead,
the two rolls
propped on knees flung wide.
She is slow to
acknowledge my presence,
slow looking up at
the self-conscious stand
I have taken
beside her over-filled chair.
In a glance
she reminds me
that I am too tall,
too thin, too
well-dressed,
and too goddamned
white.
“I need
it,” she replies.
And that need, I
know,
is not entirely
selfish,
that need embraces
the needs
of her children,
her grandchildren,
maybe a neighbor.
But it does not
embrace the needs
of her neighbors
with whom
she shares this
waiting room.
“I have to
ask for it back,” I say,
citing the needs
of the others.
Reluctant herself,
she complies.
Practically
speaking,
she is a
republican.
I retreat to
return the basics
to the necessary
place,
dizzy with
democracy.
©1995 Sara Holbrook, Chicks Up
Front (Cleveland State University Press)
This next poem I wrote to introduce a chapter on writing
poetry in social studies class in my first professional book for teachers.  It has since appeared in a couple of
anthologies, and my newest book High Impact Writing Clinics (Corwin, 2013),
which also contains, among its 600 power point slides, one devoted to this poem
along with a recording of me reading it.
Democracy (2)                      
Not a
flagpole, pointing heavenward
with
shining surety.
Not
any
one set of colors
jerked
cleanly up and down.
Not
golden crusted apple pie.
Not
a grey
pin-striped uniform.
Not
anybody’s
mom.
            No.
If
there is a metaphor
for
democracy
it is
a mud wrestling match,
grit
in the eyes
feet a
flying—
your
ear in my teeth.
And
the future?
The
future belongs the muckers
still
willing to get their hands
dirty,
who
roll up their sleeves
to
show their colors.
©2005 Sara Holbrook, Practical
Poetry (Heinemann)
So, what do I really think about democracy?
Democracy is constantly evolving.  Stay tuned.

9 responses to “Democracy Democracy: Toilet Paper and Mud Wrestling”

  1. I think of what Gregory Peck said of Bob Dylan when he received the Kennedy Center Honors. "Bob Dylan's not about getting out of town before the shooting starts."

  2. sanam arzoo says:

    I really love reading and following your post as I find them extremely informative and interesting. This post is equally informative as well as interesting . Thank you for information you been putting on making your site such an interesting. I gave something for my information. Male Mud Wrestling

  3. Anonymous says:

    I'm actually doing this in ela ✔️💯

  4. Anonymous says:

    i love this poem infact im doing hw on it today thx for you poems Sara HULLBROK 🙂

  5. Anonymous says:

    Weird just got this assignment #weird

Leave a Reply